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Three days of intense negotiations

Negotiation is an everyday skill, which becomes especially important in planning where multitude of stakeholders with diverse interests collaborate towards shaping the cities of tomorrow. A three-day intensive course Negotiation in Planning gathered future planning professionals together to learn what negotiation is about.
Students doing group work at Negotiations in Planning course.

Planning problems can be wicked and there is not a single right answer always to be found. What is often needed is the negotiation between multiple parties that sometimes have conflicting interests and values. Negotiation in Planning was a 3-day intensive course designed to build capabilities to manage the complexity of conflicting interests and values by harnessing the benefits of an interest-based negotiation strategy. The course instructor was an Aalto alumni Jonna Kangasoja, D.Sc. (Tech.), a leading professional in multiparty negotiation and public policy mediation with Akordi Oy, and the teacher-in-charge Prof. Claudio Roncoli from the Department of Built Environment. The course was offered by the Spatial Planning and Transportation Engineering Master’s Programme and held in April 2023. 

Teaching and learning methods included interactive negotiation exercises, which were multiparty role-play simulations of resolving complex problems. Such simulations were created and distributed by the inter-university consortium “Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School”. The students of the course found interactive exercises as one of the best takeaways of it.

Students sitting around a table and talking.
Samuel Babjak, Emilia Ihalainen, Isabel Scherer and Florian Wiest

‘Role-plays, negotiations and exercises were intense but one of the best parts of the course. It is the best way to practice what you learn, and we had a safe environment for doing so.’, tells Isabel Scherer, who is a second-year student of EIT Urban Mobility Master’s Programme. 

Samuel Babjak reports that: ‘I liked the format of the course, because it kind of reminded me of a hackathon, where you are working for getting a result in the end, but it is not for everyone to see, but for you to learn.’ Samuel is also a student in EIT Urban Mobility Master’s Programme. 

One of the key learnings of the course was that it is more important to focus on the process and getting to know your negotiation partners and their interests in order to solve problems collaboratively and creatively, rather than focusing on the end result.

‘I learned that we don’t need to see negotiation as a fight you have to win, but the outcome should be something that everyone can gain something from. Especially in our field, it is important to think about the long-term perspective and to be open with each other, trust each other and build relationships in negotiation.’, Isabel reflects. 

‘One of the key learnings for me was that the culture and good communications are crucial for having success in negotiation processes.’, tells Florian Wiest, who is a student in the EIT Urban Mobility Master’s Programme.  

‘I expected some list or a guidance of what I’m supposed to do, but instead, the approach was that you have to get to know the other side, their interests and motives and build the trust between parties.’ Samuel tells. 

Many of the students who took the course are students of Spatial Planning and Transportation Engineering Master’s Programme and EIT Urban Mobility Master’s Programme, which means that in the future many of them will work in planning and face negotiations in their working life. 

‘I took this course because this is one of my top my interests. My thesis is about participation planning and there’s a lot of negotiation, conflicts and disputes, which need attention and this type of negotiation is a very important skill to have. The context and the fact that this course was held with actual rehearsals and exercises were what I really liked.’, tells Emilia Ihalainen, who is a student in Spatial Planning and Transportation Engineering Master’s Programme. Emilia works as a consultant besides her studies and negotiations are important in her everyday work. 

Emilia is not the only one who has already experienced the importance of negotiations in working life. ‘I’m planning to work with public planning processes, where negotiations are part of everyday work. That is something I have already experienced in working life and will experience even more.’, Florian concludes.

The importance of learning negotiation skills is not limited only to future planners. The course gives tools and methods throughout interactive simulation exercises that students from all different fields can benefit from in their future working lives. 

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